California eyes lethal force law after shootings by cops

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"Accountability is a really important part of changing the culture", said Lizzie Buchen, legislative advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union of California told the news organization.

The proposal comes after two Sacramento police officers chased Stephon Clark, who was suspected of breaking into cars, into his grandparents' backyard.

"A life may be saved in that blink" of time before officers open fire, he said. They say they shot at him because they thought he had a gun. The move would add a debate element to a narrow process that has been seen by some as biased toward law enforcement.

David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh law school and a scholar of police behavior, said Weber and her co-sponsors are effectively saying that the federal standard "is not good enough for us". "We need to ensure our state policies govern the use of deadly force stresses the sanctity of human life and is only used when necessary".

"This will help bring confidence to the public that we can be smarter and more humane with our policies and bringing about justice is not easy but this was a necessary step that we can enact this year in California", said McCarty.

McCarty said the time was now to revise a 100-year-old law which too often justified deadly force incidents.

Opponents of the bill have expressed concern that limiting the use of force could make an officer's job more unsafe. But the outcry over the case has prompted one California lawmaker to introduce a bill that would change the rules about when police can shoot to kill.

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People attend a rally and vigil on March 31 for Stephon Clark, who was fatally shot last month by police in Sacramento, California. Each bullet wound could have been fatal, according to Dr. Bennet Omalu, a renowned pathologist who was hired by Clark's family to conduct a second autopsy. The Associated Press first reported the legislation, which is supported by the ACLU and other groups.

Sgt. Vance Chandler, a department spokesman, said Tuesday that Hahn was reluctant to comment on pending legislation but that "law enforcement is changing" and must be open to ways of improving.

Officers in California are not typically charged or convicted after a shooting, with officers permitted to use force if prosecutors or jurors feel they had reasonable fears for their safety. Frequently it's because of the doctrine of "reasonable fear". "There is no reasonable alternative to using deadly force", said Assemblymember Shirley N. Weber, (D) 79th District. "It doesn't mean there has to have been a threat". In that ruling, the court said police force should be deemed "reasonable" under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ─ which protects against unlawful search and seizure ─ only by judging "from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight" and by taking into consideration "split-second judgments" about "the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation".

Officers also might have to use de-escalation techniques or try non-lethal weapons before shooting. Naturally, this would make some law enforcement officers nervous, as the proposed change would open officers up to discipline, firing, or even prosecution if the standard was not met.

The ACLU says California would be the first state to adopt such a standard, though some other law enforcement agencies, including San Francisco, have similar or more restrictive rules.

Cities's strict standards are generally for situations where there is time to deescalate volatile situations, such as with people who are mentally unstable, Obayashi said.

Clark, who was unarmed, was killed within minutes of Sacramento police arriving.